A chance encounter with one of New York City's most prominent architects has resulted in a prestigious commission for a young Soddy-Daisy sculptor — and it's the second time such a windfall has come her way.
Abigail Tulis, 21, has been commissioned by Peter Pennoyer to create a sculpture for the exterior of a new home he is building for himself in upstate New York. Pennoyer is an author, award-winning architect and founder of Peter Pennoyer Architects in Manhattan. His designs are internationally known and have been featured in publications ranging from The New York Times to Architectural Digest, Elle Decor, House & Garden and Verandah magazines.
Pennoyer, a descendant of financier J.P. Morgan, is chairman of the board of The Institute of Classical Architecture & Art in New York City, where Tulis has been studying in the institute's Grand Central Academy of Art as well as its sister school of architecture and design, Beaux Arts Atelier.
During a student exhibition last year, Tulis was introduced to the architect by a fellow student who works for Pennoyer. She thought no more about it until January, when the architect contacted her to commission a sculpture that will be installed above the second-floor windows on the exterior of his new home. His request: dachshunds at play or in chase.
"It (the installation site) is quite high, which has been a challenge because the design has to be legible from far away as well as looking up from below," says Tulis.
Tulis, daughter of David and Jeannette Tulis of Soddy-Daisy, is the eldest of four homeschooled siblings. At age 15, she apprenticed with noted local sculptor Cessna Decosimo to learn more about the visual art in which she showed such promise. Tulis says it was a swap-off of sorts.
"I kept the studio clean; he would give me critiques on sculptures I was doing and allow me to use his library. He was always encouraging me to draw and study the old masters. He was a wonderful teacher."
Decosimo says the strengths he saw in the budding artist were "intellectual curiosity, willingness to work really hard and a love of work. Put together that combination and you create the potential to do something extraordinary."
"Abigail was willing to put herself in sometimes uncomfortable jobs that a lot of people wouldn't want to do for the sake of learning," he says. "As a student of mine, I could always leave projects in her hands if I needed her help, and I knew they would be done well, with seriousness and concern."
Three years being mentored by Decosimo helped build a portfolio that got Tulis accepted to Grand Central Academy of Art in 2010. Justine Kalb, managing director of GCA, says the school receives numerous applications from young artists across the country, but accepts no more than 15 annually.
At GCA, Tulis says she studied with noted sculptor Jiwoong Cheh. She participated in the 2012 Hudson River Fellowship and was first runner-up in the GCA figure sculpture competition.
Although she had no background in architecture, she decided to apply for the institute's Beaux Arts Atelier because she believes architecture and sculpting are mutually complementary. She was among a select group accepted into the architecture school, a one-year intensive program of design, architecture and art that concludes with a week of study in Rome, Italy.
"Architecture is like a painting and sculpture you are walking through," she describes. "I'm still a sculptor but, as a sculptor, if you can design from an architectural perspective, your work will be stronger."
She began Pennoyer's dachshund design with a series of sketches, even borrowing a dachshund and a rabbit -- which dachshunds love to chase -- from friends to study and sketch the canines' long lines in movement.
Working in her grandmother's carport this summer, she has sculpted three panels in water-based clay, making molds that will be cast in heavy plaster. Each panel is 13 inches high and 40 inches wide and must be completed by October for installation on the home's exterior. The scene depicts a kennel where one dachshund is chasing a rabbit while another watches at rest.
Tulis says she feels "very blessed" to have earned such an impressive commission. It's the second stroke of good luck to come her way since moving to New York City.
Two years ago, she was working late in her studio at the academy when "a nice dude came in and I showed him around." He asked questions about the neighborhood, the academy and her studies. In the course of conversation, he told her he was writing a story about the studio's 44th Street neighborhood, and asked permission for photographer Jonathan Becker to come by and take some pictures -- the same Jonathan Becker who has been a Vanity Fair photographer for three decades.
The resulting color photo of Abigail in a sunlit studio, surrounded by sculptures in various degrees of completion, was featured art in the article.
"It impressed a lot of people," she says, laughing. "It was funny because it was such a coincidence it happened. That's the kind of thing that can only really happen in New York."
Contact staff writer Susan Pierce at email@example.com or 423-757-6284.
Susan Palmer Pierce is a reporter and columnist in the Life department. She began her journalism career as a summer employee 1972 for the News Free Press, typing bridal announcements and photo captions. She became a full-time employee in 1980, working her way up to feature writer, then special sections editor, then Lifestyle editor in 1995 until the merge of the NFP and Times in 1999. She was honored with the 2007 Chattanooga Woman of ...